Sudhir Das loves the intimacy and vitality of live music. So the closer he can get to live music at home, the closer he is to nirvana. Here he is interviewed by Tom Waters of the Sydney Audio Club…
Tom Waters: Do you have a first memory, a first unforgettable musical experience that left an impression?
Sudhir Das: It was my uncle’s system which he bought from overseas during my school days. That initiated my interest in music systems.
TW: And did that start you on the hi-fi journey or did something else start you on the audio equipment quest?
SD: My hi-fi journey started in my college days in the hostel. My friend Iqbal and I designed our first amplifier and made our own speakers. We invited our college mates to our room to listen to the music produced from those speakers. Then we went on to broadcast the music throughout the hostel so that everyone could hear it. It just took off successfully and people were tuning in to hear our songs. That was the time in India when it was hard to access Western music… let alone heavy metal music. My classmates whose parents were working in the Middle East were kind enough to get those cassettes for me. The collection was huge and we introduced music like Iron Maiden—Power Slave, Seventh Son of the Seventh Son, Somewhere in Time; AC/ DC—Black in Black; Dio—Holy Driver; Def Leppard—Pyromania/Hysteria; Twisted Sister; Scorpions—Black Out and Love at First Sting; White Snake—87, Quiet Riot—Metal Health; Kiss; Metallica—Master of Puppets; Ozzy Osbourne—Bark at the Moon. We also introduced bands such as Guns and Roses, Bon Jovi—Slippery When Wet, Europe, etc.
Some of the most popular requests to play were Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Santana and the Eagles. Our enthusiasm grew when strangers stopped by our room and asked us to play some of their favourites. We felt like rock stars creating live music of our own.
Also while living in New Zealand I used to travel a lot to Asian countries. Singapore was the centre spot and I spent lot time at the Adelphi Mall in Singapore with my cousin Anil Kishen who lived there. I saw and heard many systems and was able to buy lots of CDs that were not available in Australia or New Zealand. I’ve also been to hi-fi shops in Thailand and the Philippines but they weren’t as good as Singapore or Malaysia. Even India wasn’t as good back then—that has all changed now.
TW: You’ve mentioned lots of rock music. Was that your staple musical diet back then?
SD: Yes, pretty much all rock music. I wasn’t really into jazz or blues back then. And it was mostly on cassette. Vinyl was available but due to the climate it was hard to maintain vinyl to a high standard. Even cassettes were difficult—we’d play the entire side of a cassette and not stop mid-way for long because the humidity could damage the tape. You wouldn’t fast forward or rewind because it could damage the tape.
TW: Where do you think your system is going, or has it arrived?
SD: I am happy with my system right now but I know that it will keep changing. I haven’t done anything in the last two years due to financial reasons. However I have been doing a bit of tweaking here and there to my satisfaction. To me, all audio systems are a long chain of equipment put together from source to hearing. There is always a weakest link which can be fixed, and sorting that out will reveal the second weakest link to work on and then you move to the next link and that goes on for ages. I haven’t done any acoustic work (room treatment) and that is what I am looking at doing in the near future.
TW: Do you have any specific plans regarding room treatment?
SD: I am considering a DEQX unit. But really, I suppose any unit capable of handling my room issues would be considered. I have a free space in my rack just for it. I believe when you have the space and the will, it will come.
TW: What’s your favourite piece of equipment at the moment, something that you wouldn’t sell?
SD: I am not emotionally attached to any component in my system. Therefore, I will change anything if I find something better that I can afford to buy. Nick Papas from Audio Solutions always helps me with upgrades and I am always open to suggestions for improvement. If pushed to choose one, I would say my favourite is my subwoofer. I haven’t found many subs better than my REL G2, but I’ve found many speakers around the same price as my Sonus Fabers that I would be happy with.
TW: What do you see as your next hi-fi purchase or upgrade?
SD: I do have a few plans in the pipeline which are strictly subject to my financial conditions. My next buy will likely be to upgrade my turntable but I am also looking at fixing my music room’s acoustics. I’ve seen a nice turntable at Audio Solutions—a Well Tempered Amadeus GTA MK11. The tone-arm uses a golf ball partially immersed in high viscosity silicone fluid to provide the damped, zero clearance bearing! I am also looking at getting my digital music (HD and FLAC) on to a music server using software such as Roon.
TW: What’s the most memorable pair of speakers (or system as a whole) you’ve ever heard?
SD: I love live performances and some of the systems used in live shows these days have had enormous impact—more than any system. I remember a speaker system at a hi-fi show a while ago, it was ‘W…’ something. [TW: Was it Wisdom, the LS4?] Yes, that sounded great to me. It was beyond my budget so I didn’t look into it any further. All that said, I also liked the original huge Focal Utopias that Kiet Lequang (at Len Wallis Audio) played for me. I also like some of the home theatre systems I have seen over the years.
I have a huge collection of Bluray concerts which I love watching on my home theatre system. I have organised many live music concerts over the last 17 years. It started with my uncle—he had connections back in India and for 40 years he ran shows back there. He’d bring in artists and movies alike. Through him I would manage bringing these people into Australia for concerts at the Seymour Centre and the Riverside Theatre, since 2001. Live shows with good sound inspire me a lot and I get connected to the musicians and the music.
TW: You’ve mentioned Bluray and home theatre a few times. Is it the multi-channel aspect you like, or the visual? SD: I like both actually. TW: Is there any component you’ve owned and then sold that you now regret selling?
SD: My speakers and amplifier from my college days. I should have kept them. I did not want to bring my M&K subwoofer from New Zealand but then I could not find any M&K subs after coming to Australia. Apparently many of the engineers at M&K went to REL!
TW: Do you use the same music for comparing components as you do for listening pleasure?
SD: Yes, I have a long set of tracks which I know very well that I use for comparing components.
TW: What genre of music do you listen to mostly and who are some of your favourite artists?
SD: It has changed over the years. It used to be heavy metal but I’ve since moved on to jazz and blues. Age is catching up to me… my tastes are changing! I’ve found that since I bought my turntable I’ve been listening to more jazz and blues—John Coltrane on vinyl sounds much better than on CD… and if you get the first pressing it sounds even better!
I went to New Orleans and Memphis to get the feel of blues (and jazz), and now that really turns me on! I went to Sun Studios in Memphis and also listened to bands playing in the streets—a great experience. The type of music I listen to depends on my mood. I have a wide variety of music ranging from Indian to Western. India has a huge variety of music in different languages and I enjoy Indian classical music a lot.
Some of my favourite artists are Indian singers such as Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Jagjit Singh and the music of Ilaiyaraaja and A.R. Rahman to name a few. Also, Dr. L. Subramaniaman, an acclaimed Indian violinist, composer and conductor, trained in the classical Carnatic music tradition and Western classical music, and renowned for his virtuoso playing techniques and compositions in orchestral fusion. And singer K.S. Chitra who has recorded more than 60,000 songs, and has visited at my home and listened to my music collection! And from the Western world my favourites would be Mark Knopfler, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Stacy Kent, Melody Gardot, Chris Botti and Robert Plant.
TW: What would be your ‘desert island’ music albums if you could only choose, say, three works?
SD: Mohammad Rafi’s songs, Jagjit Singh’s Ghazals… and Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.
TW: How would you describe the sound you’re getting from your current system?
SD: My system sound is lively with good bass. I am still working on two big dips and one big high at around 200Hz. These are produced by the room and most acoustic panels (less than the size of a Mack truck) cannot eliminate them. Panels help to an extent, but I can’t realistically expect them to solve all my room issues. Back to the question… imaging is important to me to get the feel of the person in the room. I try to bring in my experiences of listening to live concerts to re-create that live performance’s feel and connection at home.
TW: In what way does music affect your life, your emotions and the way you feel?
SD: It is very relaxing and takes away the day to day stress. I find it a kind of meditation. My wife is into meditation. For me listening to music is my meditation. It takes me back in time and inspires me a lot.
TW: With family around, how do you find the time to listen to music?
SD: I listen mostly on weekends, a lot on Friday night. Friday night is my main music night. I wish the club had more SIGs on Friday night so I could attend—I’m always busy with my family on Saturdays.
TW: Where do you see the high-end audio industry going in the future?
SD: It looks like digital storage and streaming, and likely the increased use of headphones and ear buds. Physical media is going to disappear even more. New cars often don’t have CD players anymore. I do still love to see an album cover and get a feel of the album before listening to it. I really like the 60s and 70s music on a well-pressed LP. I think the future is smaller systems with full functionality embedded in the one system.
TW: Where would you like the audio industry to go or to evolve to?
SD: I would like to see the audio industry continue to move away from MP3s. The only good thing about MP3 is that at least the music is easily accessible to people. I would like to see more quality in downloaded music. Other concerns are the aging of the typical audiophile and the divergent interests of the young people—they are both challenges for audio industry. With kids the current trends are towards interactive, gaming and home theatre systems which detract from the audio industry.
I think kids are more attracted to the visual aspect than the audio. I also foresee more harm to real music being caused by the phone manufacturers which promote low quality music from the phone. That is made worse by kids then listening through cheap earbuds or headphones. There are many more hurdles coming up for the music industry.
Interview by Tom Waters of the Sydney Audio Club [www.sydneyaudioclub.org.au]